Hope 24 hour run

Funny to be putting this in the “Racing” category. I’ll try and explain how an event can be a non-competitive competitive event as I go through. But, to set the picture Danny Slay, along with Pete Drummond as the organisers of the event make it pretty clear on their website:

“I am proud of what Hope24 is becoming and we like to reward as many of our competitors as possible. Therefore, we don’t do category winners and prizes as we feel that this only rewards those that have the ability to compete at a higher standard. For some, completing one lap of our course is a greater achievement than completing ten.”

With that as the outline, it is digging back to 4th April 2014 how I ended up being there. Wandering through Gatwick Airport with Phil and Andrew on the way to Errachidia Airport to run the Marathon des Sables I spotted a team of guys with Aarn Sacks on. They were immediately obvious as Team Hope, a group of firefighters who were raising a huge amount of money for charity. Social media being what it was, we were aware of what they were looking to achieve and who the characters in front of us were.

After MdS 2014
After MdS 2014

Flip on a week, Andrew, Phil and I in Tent 96, in the desert with the two sleeping bags we’d joined on the first night in the bivvy, Linda and Rachel along with Artur and Dave had formed a pretty tight knit “team”. All working individually, but really pulling the same load in camp. After such an experience, we knew that friendships would be formed, and as we said our goodbyes we promised each other a reunion.

Once home and nursing the long run injuries, Danny Slay was positing about the Hope 24 event, and how teams of 1,2,3,5 or 8 could come run a 5 mile trail for 24 hours. It seemed like a good opportunity for a 2015 reunion, and after a quick email, 5 of us were keen.  9/10 May became our re-union date. In the time in between we had all got our own little running or adventure goals. Linda and Rachel being very competitive in all sorts of races, Phil running some super fast times, and Andrew preparing for MdS 2015 with some amazing Ultra performances. 

But, this Hope 24 “thing” just a social re-union with a bit of running, right?

Phil and Andrew, catching up
Phil and Andrew, catching up

Well, Andrew came back from the desert, and had absolutely smashed through the event this year with a 3rd in Age from the UK. So as Phil, Andrew and I sat in Magor services on the M4 talking through MdS 2015, and general banter, there was a gentle probing as to what our expectations were for Hope 24.

Andrew, Phil and I had run together at Trail Marathon Wales, and Phil and I had run a parkrun together, and we knew Linda and Rachel were pretty competitive. No-one wanted to commit. Just natter, but we were all there to do the best we could personally. Phil headed to Bristol Airport to collect Linda from a flight from Cork, and Rachel from a flight from France. Andrew and I headed to Newnham Park to set up the camp.

After a brief tour *ahem* up the wrong road right next to the camp, we got the tent and shelter up in a relatively quiet campsite. Chatted to a few “veterans” from the 2014 event who were quick to tell us that the hilly trail run was tough and we needed to be wary of not having high expectations for the lap times.

Excellent sketch map of Hope 24 from Matt Bisco
Excellent sketch map of Hope 24 from Matt Bisco

A quick phone call from Phil confirmed he was enjoying the same entry tour as us as Andrew and I walked what turned out to be the second half of the course. We would have done well to have studied the rather excellent sketch map from Matt Bisco!

But more about the course in a bit.

There was serious catching up to be done. A bottle of red, some chilli olives, a bit of cheese was a great way to catch up with everyone. Talk of potential returns to the desert, the Dragons Back Race, Glen Coe Skyline as potential future races, plus the Ring o Fire and the Kerry Way Ultra as races we’re variously booked into.

Rachel clearly loving the shift from 27C in France to a slightly less tropical Newnham Park soon layered up with borrowed kit from us all.

The campsite came to life, we registered, got our individual race numbers (for the chip timing). One of the great things about not having “winners” prizes is that there are a large number and variety of spot prizes and I picked up a Buff at registration. We settled into watch (local?) people set up the camp for the event and then disappear and generally listen to the Peacocks squawk.

The almost inevitable rattle emanating from Phil’s rear whilst looking down on the tent took us all back to the days of Granola in the desert. We went to bed with all of us having better, or worse nights sleep. We were up at a similar time, and I got the Aeropress and Carvetii Coffee going, and we started the pre race grazing, banter and working out race order. We settled on youngest first, Rachel, then Linda, and she had mentioned she wanted to nail some laps! Then me, then Phil and Andrew. 

Tent 96 in pre-run hamstring stretch pose.
Tent 96 in pre-run hamstring stretch pose.

I bumped into Wayne Drinkwater, another MdS vet, here for a solo attempt at 100 miles. Wayne was another amazing fundraiser, and I really like his quiet approach to all that he does. Coming back to Ultra distance after a recent op, and being totally solo, we offered space under our shelter if he needed it.

Whilst we talk about nailing laps, Phil decided he needed some new nails, and Rachel happily matched Phil’s to Linda’s. I was quite surprised that Phil managed to keep his nails looking good for the whole event, where as Linda’s looked a little chipped, quite quickly.

Lovely purple nails Phil!
Lovely purple nails Phil!

Happy, and The Road to Hell were played on the startline, an obvious nod to those at MdS2014, and one that Tent 96 had collective goosebumps over.

The shape of the course meant that we could watch Rachel off the line, then support her before the second significant climb and then see her come back past the tent before the first handover to Linda. As the ‘probe’ the feedback from Rachel was really valuable. Two hills, a bit sloppy in places, but all good. Around 42 minutes a lap.

Linda blitzed round, about the same pace as Rachel, we supported. Tony Sheridan also from MdS 2014 came round, stopped for a quick chat, and then retired for Gin and Tonics and steak. What a civilised experience! I started to think about a smooth transition, and how I was going to run the lap. I wanted to run well, but also wanted to hold a bit back it was going to be a long night, and with us aiming towards 160 miles, it was likely to need to be consistent.

Spot prize of a Buff
Spot prize of a Buff

So onto my description of a lap. Standing in the transition box, looking for Linda coming down the finishing straight. Flicking the ‘baton’ wristband from her wrist into her hand. Crossing the line, hearing a beep and then taking the band and turning to run down the start straight. A really smooth left curve, before getting on a stony track. I focussed on getting warmed up, running within myself. A little bend and we’re onto slightly soft mud, and then over a little bridge, roots on the entry and exit suited me, but there were a few ginger steps over this. Then  a very short ramp up to a skeet shooting area, exited with a little Fred Astaire arm swing on a large fence post to a hard standing area marked out with Orange Clay pigeons. Another short climb and then a steady run through the 1 mile mark. This area was the wettest on the course and marked an area where the next left turn started one of two significant climbs. I found this runnable, and with three sections easy to pace through. A little bend through some trees at the top, and then a gently descent to clear the legs of lactic before a lovely plunge back to the skeet ground. The next section really only had a sharp left turn over a bridge as a point of note, quite flat run back towards camp. Somewhere through here was the 2 mile mark. Over the third bridge on the course, a slippy lead in, plywood bridge and then the second big climb. This is steep, through two trees, on open grass pasture then slacking off before a long and gentle climb on a stony path. A brief respite out of this field, before re-entering and climbing the headland of the field to “Thomas the Tank”. This area is a pony club jump filed so has a lot of funny things, including some sheep. Danny told me there is a great view from here, but I was keen to descend this section fast, and never looked up here! A stony vehicle track that descends slowly at first, a few flats, and then a steepish but quick for the strong of leg tarmac descent to a sharp left turn was easily the quickest mile of the course. A narrow little bridge, the fourth, delivers runners back into the camp field, and all that remains is a horseshoe shaped track back to the transition area.

I was pleased to hand the wrist band to Phil, knowing he would go out hard, my watch shows around 36 minutes for my lap, and though blowing hard from the flat finish everything feels ok. A quick bit of water and then get on with supporting the rest of the team.

Phil came back and despite having a poorly Achilles had set the fastest time. Andrew was saying he would go as best he could, and as normal not acknowledging what an excellent runner he is. At this point, maybe good, maybe bad, Phil and I went to see the event timing people Wild Boar Events. This showed Phil a little faster than me, but both of us close enough to 35 minutes to think about dipping under. Boys being boys the banter started. I was doubtful of being able to go faster than Phil. However, I like trail, and Phil doesn’t get as much time on it as I do.

Andrew came back in having smashed a great time, and off went Rachel again. One rotation and 25 miles we were off again.

I decided I was going to “go hard”on my next lap and dipped under the 35 mins mark. I was helped by a runner passing me at the second bridge of the lap, and I just locked on for the tow. But, the confidence this gave me was brilliant.

After this lap I popped to the Luff Bus for a yummy bit of flapjack, and some Butternut and Lentil Dhal. Great food to have at an event like this and was much appreciated!

Not the nicest evening out, thanks for the photo Phil Waters!
Not the nicest evening out, thanks for the photo Phil Waters!

We were all pushing hard, and just as the sun was setting we realised that we were actually one of the teams putting in the most laps for the time. Go Tent 96!! There was a slight disbelief we were up there ahead of teams of 8, mixed and single sex. This started to fade in the night, we started losing places, and I think we all took our eyes off comparing, and just went as well as we could. There were a couple of trials and Rachel needed to shift her position in the running order. This meant a shorter rest for us for a bit, but she soon rejoined the running order. Dark trail running is a skill, and made harder when the cloud came down. Short lie downs meant no proper sleep, and the inevitable misery of putting wet running gear back on and getting cold waiting for the returning runner adds mental and physical challenges. Our transitions stayed smooth, and whilst we all slowed down we kept plugging out good consistent laps.

As the sun started to rise we checked our placings again, we had incredibly pulled out a lead against a male team of 8, and were in the overall lead. Both Phil and I had had “bad” laps of over 40 minutes, which in reality wasn’t bad, but really knocked the mental. Was I tiring or had I just eased off? Phil and I got a piece of paper out and started calculating. If we could squeeze a few minutes off each lap, we may be able to eek out an extra lap.

My 7th lap, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so anxious lining up to run. I knew that we all had to push hard, and I felt really uncertain whether at mile 30-35 I was going to be able to pull it out the bag. Linda handed me the wristband, and I went for it. I knew now the landmarks for time this lap. I was steady, not quick, through to the top of the first climb, and then I went for it. It hurt, but not enough to back off. I reached Thomas the Tank with a cramp starting in my left hamstring. But, I knew I could go back under 40 minutes, and hammered the descent, a herd of Elephants I think was the description of that one.  That lap has changed my view of what I can do when tired, and was a big moment when I crossed the line back in the region of 37 minutes.

Salomon Sense Pro sole unit after 600km of abuse.
Salomon Sense Pro sole unit after 600km of abuse.

A brief shout out to my Salomon Sense Pro that came recommended from Run.Coed y Brenin as on the last lap they went through the 600km mark, all quite hard miles. The more miles I run in these, the more I think they are a terrific trail shoe. At 6mm drop they aren’t as racey as the S-Lab Ultra, and whilst I covet the Soft Ground version, these are really capable. After 35 miles of quick running, my feet were in a good state, and I hadn’t felt a slip once on the varied terrain of the Hope 24 course.

Now was all about keeping the team keeping on. We’d taken the pressure off a bit, but the male 8 were pushing and there was some friendly banter starting between us all. Our lead came down to 3 minutes, Phil opened it out to 7. Andrew was feeling the pressure, but again delivered an exceptional lap. It came down to the last lap, Linda was going to run her 8th lap, against a team of 8, who were running their 5th. If she was nervous, it didn’t show. Transition was smooth, she ran the bend out of the startline like a 400m runner. Rachel got ready to pace her up the second big hill, Phil and I got the difference in time, told Rachel. And crossed our fingers that the guy Linda was running against couldn’t match her determination.

Watching Linda and Rachel come back into the event camp, with the “opponent” no where to be seen was amazing. Phil joined them at the tent, I about 200m out and then Andrew about 100m out from the finish line. Tent 96 crossed the line together, and in front. After the two teams covering 180 miles, 4 minutes was the difference. Exceptional performances by everyone.

An amazing team, an amazing effort and a real sense of achievement for the team effort. For me, running 35 miles in 4hrs 23 mins and 13 seconds was an amazing result, made all the sweeter by just pipping Phil by 30 seconds over 35 miles. I know though, if it had been an actual head to head race, and not a time trial like this, would almost certainly be different. We’ll see at Trail Marathon Wales this year…maybe!

Hope 24 Medal
Hope 24 Medal

But, it’s not about finishing first. It felt good, but seeing people achieving what they wanted and feeling equally proud is what this event is about. Of note was Matt Bisco running 135 miles solo, supported by many including Elisabet Barnes (this years winner of MdS) and her husband Colin (owners of MyRaceKit) and Great Dane, Stig. But also, the lady, who signed up for the event 7 months ago, before finding out she was one month pregnant, and completing the event 8 months pregnant. To buzzy bees, to superheroes, to runners, to walkers, to kids, to bus pass holders or sponsored athletes this event captures to me the essence of personal endeavour and joint appreciation of it.

To all the competitors who proudly have their medal, congratulations, and thank you for making a really memorable event!

To the supporters, caterers, masseurs, timing guys, volunteers and landowners you all make a fantastic event. Thank you.

To the organisers and creators of Hope 24, Danny Slay and Pete Drummond. It was an honour to be involved this year. Thank you, great event, fantastic hospitality and ethos.

If you’ve read this far, 14th-15th of May 2016 get on it! Hope 24, 2016, it will only be better than this, and I suspect will turn entrants away.

 

 

#CyBGrandSlam

Trail head marker
Trail head marker

It was a simple idea, run all the waymarked trails in Coed y Brenin in one go. I felt quite rested, though in retrospect, a couple of quick hard runs earlier in the week and heading up Snowdon the day before wasn’t the smartest idea!

The trail head marker doesn’t yet have the demo loop, which is an extra mile or so.

To make the mental side a bit easier I started with longest and worked backwards. I knew it was always going to be touch looping back through the visitor centre.

I haven’t done a “long” run in a while, so knew that the last 20km or so were going to be hard, but I figured the first day of spring would be a great day to start early and put the segment down on Strava.

I kicked off from the Car Park at about 08:30, carrying everything that I needed, with the hope that I would only need to top water up on the way round.

The very start of the first lap on half marathon
The very start of the first lap on half marathon

For the first time I was running with my recently acquired Salomon Hydro Vest. Which also meant that I would add in a phone to take some pics on the way around.

Food wise I was going for the old faithfuls, a pack of fig rolls, an emergency pack of Jelly Babies and some TORQ fuel mixed into the flexi bottles in the vest.

I also had a thermal layer, my normal trail first aid kit, bivvy bag and a head torch that I hoped I wouldn’t need starting so early.

The air temperature was pretty chilly so I was buffed up and had a pertex jacket on. I thought I’d be needing to shed this early on, ish.

The sky was cloudless and after a few dry and bright days, the trail was starting to firm up, a bit.

Half Marathon route high point
Half Marathon route high point

I set off at a very leisurely pace, I really didn’t know how I’d get on later, so I figured that going easy at the outset was a good plan. I could always go back and push the pace another time.

I’d decided I’d stick to the waymarked route. The race route varies in places, but the idea was to put the “Grand Slam” together for the waymarked trails.

It wasn’t long before the route wound it’s way up and over one river, and then up to a lovely descent down to the Afon Wen.  Judging by the selfie at the top, my  leisurely might have been a bit pushy. I’d taken the Buff off, but in the shade the air temp was still pretty low, so kept my jacket on.

I was getting the use of the vest dialled in, I found I could get everything in and out without taking it off, making it so much better than a rucksack. The middle zipped storage wouldn’t be accessible but I had organised everything I needed around my waist, so all that was good to go, and the flexi bottle are easy to drink from without taking the bottle out of the pouches.

I wasn’t pushing the descents either, but just enjoying bimbling along the trails. It looks like the storm damage at Ceunant Hyll is being cleared – I can’t wait for this to re-open, I love it over there!

Into T’yn y Groes I needed to make use of the toilets there, and everything felt, well, better for it. I topped off one 500ml bottle, I guess I’d drunk about 350ml in the first 15km. The next section has the infamous “sting in the tail” and I chose to not fight the hills, and walked the steepest bits.

GoldRush, single track goodness
GoldRush, single track goodness

A really gentle run into the visitor centre and across the half marathon line in 2:12:20. I just turned left and headed out onto the GoldRush. I’d run this earlier in the week in a PB of 67 mins, and things felt good still. I’d planned to eat a figroll on a short tarmac section about halfway and just got on with running at a really comfortable,  not hard rate. I was thinking 1:30 would be about right for today.

The GoldRush has just beautiful single track running and is probably my favourite waymarked trail in Coed y Brenin, it just has the right amount of everything.

I started drinking more consistently on the descent to the Mawddach as I was starting to feel the start of having sweated hard on the way round the half.

It still hadn’t warmed up in the shade enough for me to take my jacket off, but that meant I was losing a lot of fluid.

Snaking up Sarn Helen Hir
Snaking up Sarn Helen Hir

There is a steep little climb after crossing the bridge on the Mawddach. here I chose to walk a little and have a fig roll early. I could feel my legs tiring and wanted to keep a bit of food going in. Otherwise all was good, I was moving easily, though not quickly and enjoying the blue skies. On the run back into the Visitor Centre I could definitely feel my legs getting uncomfortable and took on a bit more water to see if I could rescue them a bit. I had planned to top my bottles off in the Visitors Centre anyway so got the rest on board. That made just over a litre of water, which for 35ish km was about right.  1:33:27 for the GoldRush, not too bad with the picking up more water.

A quick trip into the centre, and out again on to Sarn Helen Hir (Long). The “run” out along the switchback slope was a definite shuffle this time. But, I kept moving. On the climb up alongside Cefndeudwr, I felt the lactic smash into my quads, and so eased right back. This was going to be a really hard end to the run.

 

Bridge over the Gain.
Bridge over the Gain.

The weather and view of the Rhinog kept me moving, albeit slowly, on the section that climbs round towards the Afon Gain. Crossing the main stone bridge, I just felt the wheels come off. This climb is quite gentle, and normally I’d be happy to run it at a good pace. This was not happening today, at all!

I ran passed a couple sat on some tree stumps, topping off their soup, tucking into some fruit cake and Wensleydale. In comparison, I was in a world of pain.

Whether it was too much earlier in the week, not enough miles in my legs, or something else wasn’t really a comfort. This was hurting.

The climb up to Sarn Helen, was not pretty. I broke out the emergency Jelly Babies, grabbed three, had some water and waited for the sugar rush.

On Sarn Helen the run back to the Visitor Centre wasn’t terrible, just a little sore and shuffly. Quite nice to see some walkers, it made me stand up, get my hips under me and run. Before then returning to shuffling pretty soon after!

Sarn Helen Byr (short) waymark
Sarn Helen Byr (short) waymark

A quick chat with a chap who was lost on his Cyclocross bike, and re-orientated him, and then it was back onto the centre. An hour and 12 minutes for the Sarn Helen, this is where I can take some serious time off the overall time!

It was definitely head down, bum up for this lap. It wasn’t quick, all the climbs were really painful. The flats were shufflable, but this was now really unpleasant. 

Over the high point on the trail and shuffling back to the visitor centre. I spend most of this km thinking about whether the overall run would be 50km if it included the Demo Loop.

I decided it was going to be really close. Good enough.

I finished the 5km trail in 45 minutes, a far cry from a 20 minute park run a fortnight ago!

The Demo Loop is a small loop that heads up the switch back slope, turns right on Sarn Helen and then loops back down an orienteering path back to the visitor centre.

It’s just over a 1.7km. 15 minutes, it took me, but it put me over the final loop and a finish. This loop will be waymarked soon!

Into Run. Coed y Brenin just in time to watch the last few minutes of the Welsh Six Nations match, have a natter with Sandra, and generally feel pretty broken.

I really enjoyed it, on reflection, I know I’m not too good on my long distance stamina at the moment, so it gives me something to aim for. There is now a Strava segment (#CyBGrandSlam) so someone else will no doubt take the KOM, but being able to see progress on this will be really good for me building towards Ring O’ Fire later in the year.

It’s a great route, and if you like a bit of Ultra distance, I fully recommend having a go.

 

Buff Winter Trail Wales 2015

Right at the start, I’m going to say a massive “Thank You” to all the organisers, volunteers, marshals, partners and Mountain Rescue team that supported this race as well as the supporters and competitors that made the event what it is. The time and effort that goes into the build up and break down to any event is pretty tough, but in the winter, in the forest  with the wet and cold that we had in the week before the tough conditions were lost on us, the runners.

Buff and finishers mug.
Buff and finishers mug.

As Coed y Brenin is a trail centre that has a history in making great quality experiences for bikers, it is amazing to see the growth of trail running right here on my doorstep. Despite many many passionate runners in the area, it is the vision of one man (Matt Ward) and a whole gang of helpers and partners that is putting Coed y Brenin on the map for trail running. Trail Marathon Wales came to town for the first time in 2012, since then we now have 4 waymarked courses  as well as a nearly endless supply of trails to explore and put together. We also have a really visionary running shop, Run.Coed y Brenin complete with the ability to demo trail running shoes out on the trails. If running off road is your thing, then just like if you’re a mountain biker, Coed y Brenin should drop on to your list of places to visit.

So that’s the location, about the race! Well, it is the same half marathon course that is used in the summer, only in winter conditions. 21.1km of hilly, woody goodness – views, single track, climbs, descents and the wild atmosphere of Coed y Brenin. 

With an entry list of 400 that filled up really quickly, the visitor centre was humming from early on. Loads of familiar faces from all sorts of running, whether road, fell or ultra it was great to catch up with all the different personalities. I’d set myself a goal of 1 hr 50 for this, and had been working on my hill form in the lead up to the event. I’d had a rattly lung infection just after New Year and this had stopped me feeling fully confident in my preparation. But, in terms of other goals in the year this was to be a benchmark to build on with my other races in the year.

Pre-race, picture courtesy of Janson Heath
Pre-race, picture courtesy of Janson Heath

The start-line is beneath the visitor centre, meaning that the route takes you straight up between the centre buildings before turning onto the trail through the main trailhead.

Because this bit of trail is a little hourglass shaped it is good to be patient. So I picked my normal startline spot, about half way back in the pack. And just mooched off. There is always a rush, and I was planning on pacing myself nice and steady. As is nearly always the case, I started picking people off on the uphill, before them coming back at me on the flat. But, again I either do well on slightly rougher ground, or on a climb. I think I may need to try going out a little harder. But. as this was only my second ever half marathon event, I’m still only learning the tactics. I settled back into a steady climb pace for the whole of the trip up Sarn Helen.

This next section then becomes an undulating fire road that works it’s way across the back of Cefn Deuddwr before the long drop to the “aerial bridge” over the Mawddach. On this descent, it was noticeable that I was catching runners in front, and I need to focus even more on my downhill pace. It was in this part of the race that I ran my fastest event mile (6:09). Then a quick diversion to the waymarkings for the half marathon and up the steep little muddy climb on the Goldrush route before nipping off along the lovely descent of the old Karrimor trail. I’d shot this short video in poor light on this section before, and as good as the trail is, I couldn’t use my local knowledge here as I was stuck in a row of runners. Popping out onto the fire road at the bottom to Metallica – “Enter the Sandman” could mean only one thing, local running legend Ifs Richards must be the marshal here, and it was!

On the Goldrush section of Winter Trail Wales
On the Goldrush section of Winter Trail Wales

From here is the longest sustained climb on the course, up through the halfway point. I knew I wanted to run this bit well, and I picked up a good 10 places along here. Through the first feed station, and stuck to my plan to take nothing here. A quick zip down through the trees to the Afon Wen, a guy having a heavy tumble crossing the mountain bike trail, and then the fire road back towards Tyn y Groes. This section I can definitely run faster than I did, and I think this is where my downhilling needs a bit of work. The transition back to the flat took me a little while to get momentum again, and whilst I din’t lose places I didn’t protect the gains on the previous climb. I love the section here from Penrhos over to the banks of the Mawddach and I had enough space to enjoy it. At this next (and last feed station) I took on a gel and some electrolyte and got on with the fire road run up to the bailey bridge. Some stern, but very welcome encouragement from Hilary sent me up “sting in the tail”, I pulled to one side to let a runner go by, let him go in front, before passing him back when his legs gave up. I made good progress to the switchback and then had to settle for a quick walk to get to the top. Just not quite enough power (or too much weight!) to see this one through at 18km. Then the undulating run and small climbs back towards Cefn Deuddwr before the little sharp descent back towards the finish. I caught a runner here, and was determined to pass him on the way into the finish, hoping that I would get him on the last rise to the line. Unfortunately he didn’t fancy giving way to easily and I finished on his shoulder after a good 80m push to the finish.

The finish line was well organised with the friendly face of Es handing out the mugs and various finishers having a chat. All in all really good. I finished just outside my target time at 1:50:15 which gave me 54th overall and 20th in category.  I’m pretty pleased with that. I know there are a few areas, especially in the opening quarter where I could make up a minute or two, and better mental preparation would help me in the last half as well. Job well done.

In summary then, the Buff Winter Trail Wales has, I think in it’s first year, built on the successful summer events in recent years. Great quality terrain, backed up by great facilities, put on by a high quality team who know exactly what they’re doing. A really fantastic addition to the events calendar in the UK. It was fantastic to be a part of the inaugural event, and I applaud Matt and his team for delivering the high standard, in year one, in the winter. Da iawn!

Ciara at the trailhead of the running trails at Coed y Brenin.
Ciara at the trailhead of the running trails at Coed y Brenin.

It was lovely that my daughter Ciara asked to go running with me as soon as I felt recovered, so we talked about heading back up to Coed y Brenin the following day. To say that I was super proud of her run/walking the 4.3km Sarn Helen – Byr route is an understatement.

It was tough for her, but she plugged away at the various bits, and as always flew off down any descent. Seeing youngsters running downhill just for the love of it is lovely and it was great to be out in the woods the day after such a big event for the area. It was quiet, and peaceful again and sharing it with Ciara was a real honour.

 

 

Winter running – reducing the risk

Moving quickly in the mountains is a pleasure, and that means packing light. As winter conditions arrive in Snowdonia there are always people who are not ready for the conditions they face – and they end up on BBC news, or worse, dead, or both. There is currently controversy about whether mountain running, especially big mountain running in tough conditions with light equipment is ok – some high profile runners like Kilian Jornet with big publicity machines are very visibly pushing what the understood limits are and what is thought to be possible in inspiring envionments. But those judgements aren’t being taken lightly or without a serious apprenticeship in the hills.

Rhobell Fawr summit selfie
Rhobell Fawr summit selfie

Please don’t think that what I am saying is you should or shouldn’t run in the hills in winter conditions. I’m not. With the correct knowledge and judgement it is rewarding and largely controllable activity where the risk can be reduced to an acceptable level. Equally, this isn’t intended to be a “this is the right way or only way” type post. It is meant to give a few pointers  to those who are thinking about making their first few steps into running in our wilder places during the winter months. For those that know more, or have a different point of view, please feel free to comment, so that can be incorporated too.

I posted a picture of me on the top of Rhobell Fawr, in running gear, and it sparked a fair few private messages. I hope this post answers some of my thoughts.

The most common question was how do you stay safe, what do you take?

My answer is simple, knowledge. 

An accident in winter conditions escalates quickly because when travelling light, staying warm depends on being mobile. A sprained ankle is potentially lethal in remote locations, hypothermia the killer. Knowing the terrain is sensible, being able to navigate is mandatory. Knowing where safety is, and being able to get to it is really essential. Having some basic hill skills can make the difference between being uncomfortable, or a whole lot worse.

What do I carry? As well as clothing for moving, (including hat, gloves and the right footwear for the day) I tend to pack an extra warm layer, and a base layer for my core. If needed, I’d make a judgement as to whether the layer I was wearing was wet enough to justify stripping it off, getting a dry one on next to the skin and re-dressing. A shell layer is essential, and full body cover makes a real difference when you’re forced to slow down. A headtorch is sensible on short winter days, even if you don’t plan to use it. Map and compass – should be second nature in wild areas.

[EDITED to add feedback] It was pointed out by Janson Heath and ‘Forest’ Bethel that depending on how far aware from help you are, a sleeping bag, or highly insulating thermal layer (down or primaloft) are sensible additions. Additionally a long day might be made so much better with a lightweight cooker and some hot food.

Like anything, there is no point carrying anything you don’t know how to use. I carry one more sweet snack than I need, as sometimes a quick sugar hit will help with decision making. I also carry my hill safety pack (295g) which carries a few things that I’m confident in using.

Emergency kit for running
Emergency kit for running

It has a SOL emergency bivvy bag. My opinion is that blankets are a waste of time. When you need thermal protection, only getting in a bag, and being able to sort stuff out makes a difference. The SOL bag is a great, reusable bit of kit. I carry a Peperami, food and energy helps with making decisions, not essential but I like it! I carry one number 8 wound dressing, and a 10cm x 10cm low adherent pad. This is for the biggest wound I think I could cope with on my own. Most likely a rip on barb wire, or possibly a puncture wound on a fall. I also carry a 9cm x 6cm adhesive wound dressing to cover small lacerations. Whilst on the first aid theme I have a small kit, this has two steri strips, five normal plasters, three easy access plasters, some fabric strip plaster, 3 small pads (5cm x5cm). Narrow zinc oxide tape, 2 safety pins and 3 benzalkonium chloride antiseptic wipes and 4 panadol complete the first aid kit. I also carry a small lock knife with 2 m of paracord as a lanyard, a sharpie pen (will write on plastic) and a red light that has an SOS flash function. All this goes in a heavy duty double ziplock bag, to keep it dry.

I also carry the knowledge of how to use those things, and a good deal of ability to improvise. I am aware that, in reality I am more likely to use the stuff on others, rather than me. If I can move then I’ll get to somewhere less exposed, this kit might just help in the situation where I can’t move. Knowing to get insulated, off the floor, out of the wind and ideally in somewhere visible seems obvious, but when did you practise it? Why not practise it? I’d suggest some time on the hill, or out in the wilds with a good friend in winter conditions. Try taking a rucksack with plenty of warm clothes. Stop for lunch in your running kit, note how long things take to change in your ability to function, physically and mentally.

 I look through my kit every couple of runs, check everything is dry and usable. I also practise my own skills. Use it or lose it is true, and when you need your skills to deal with a situation isn’t the time to practise.

Carrying an ice axe and running crampons isn’t a discussion for here. Yes, they have a place, but due to the skill needed to use these in a running environment I’d suggest the potential number of competent users are limited. The chances of hurting yourself by having these with you increases dramatically, especially if inexperienced. If you are heading to terrain, or ground conditions that need these tools, then you must have practised extensively in a way that already provides you with the required knowledge. My feeling on this is, if you cannot arrest on a technical axe, from every orientation of fall, go run where there isn’t ice. If any of that doesn’t make sense to you then you shouldn’t be in that environment.

When I’m running solo in hard conditions I remove an element of risk by going places where I know I can communicate with others. If I honestly thought to stay safe I would have to endanger the lives of Mountain Rescue volunteers, the only position I have is – don’t go there. But, in the eventuality that I have acted in a reasonable and educated way, the back up of emergency cover is silly not to take. THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE LAST RESORT. However, I have used a phone to give me an alternate, earlier finish point, where I have judged that continuing to plan would be silly. Use phones with discretion in the wild, they can be a useful tool, but not to be relied upon. Tell someone where you are going, how long you’ll be and check in with them. [EDIT to add comment from John Taylor] Remember that the international mountain distress signal is three blasts on a whistle, with a minute delay. In the Alps and the UK this is six blasts, also with a minute delay. The reply from rescuers is three blasts in both cases. Before you add an extra whistle to your kit list it is worth checking your bag or headtorch to see if there is an integrated one already.

Fell shoe print in the snow
Fell shoe print in the snow

You can learn skills a number of ways. Find a knowledgeable friend who will show you, or go on a course. But, practise, practise and practise again.

Practise grows judgement, sound judgement brings safer adventures.

So, there is no simple  “buy this and pack it” advice from me. Exploring wild places is massively rewarding, and competent people make it look deceptively easy. You can, and should explore. You should do this from a position of knowledge.

Know the limit of your ability, know the weather, know the ground conditions, know your kit, observe your surroundings, be prepared to change your plans to suit the conditions or changing conditions. Be prepared to cancel your trip and come back another day.

Have fun, be safe, learn lots and don’t be the next to appear on The News.

Running from 2014

As the year changed Facebook got full of my year in review posts. I hope most peoples lives are more full than their social media feed! As this is mainly a running blog, looking back I can’t do justice to all the experiences that running has given me in 2014. Marathon des Sables, Trail Marathon Wales, Wye one Way and OMM all taught me lots of different lessons. Critically they’ve left me with a lot of friends and memories that will last far in to my life.

Looking forward this year, running wise I am entered for Winter Trail Wales, Hope 24, Trail Marathon Wales and Ring o Fire . Whilst not entered yet, I’m sure the OMM will make an appearance too. Personal targets rather than podiums are the aim, though I’m already planning something special for 2016.

For those interested in statistics, Strava produce a little summary video that highlights some of the numbers. However, numbers don’t tell the story of 2014, certainly don’t describe some of the feelings and experiences I’ve had and those things that will motivate me for 2015.

As with every year, I wish I’d taken more pictures, but here are some of my favourites from 2014.

Have a great 2015, see you on the trail!

Why run a Mountain Marathon?

Where else can you spend a weekend, in tough conditions, camping in a tiny tent that is pitched on a wet slope, in the wind and rain, and end up with a smile like this after 50km of running up and down big hills?

Running in to the finish, slightly broken, but very happy.
Running in to the finish, slightly broken, but very happy.

It was the challenge of navigating in the mountains and the camp craft that attracted me to my first Mountain Marathon in 1999. Since then I’ve got fitter but the challenge is still the same. I like the score classes. You don’t receive the map until 2 minutes before setting off. The map is marked up with controls. These are 15cm square flags, with a small electronic “dibber” on them, Each control has a number of points, these points, with your exact time are recorded on a little chip you wear on your wrist. This chip is dibbed into the control box when you find the location. Each team of runners has a set period of time with penalties for not finishing within the time period. It’s a two day event and the pair of you must be self sufficient. The winning team is the one that collects the most points over the two days. In the event of tied points, the fastest team wins.

I’m really lucky to have a really solid running mate to share this with – Jeremy.

There is a huge amount of tactics involved, and for the winning teams a lot of fitness. I really like running these events with Jeremy. After talking to another team a few years ago, who persuaded us that being minimalist and uncomfortable isn’t necessary. We now do things in comfort, cheese, crackers and whisky make the evening far more enjoyable than being in a cramped tent waiting for the morning.

This year neither Jeremy or I were that fired up for running fast across the Cheviots. We set off on Day 1 with the plan to have a nice weekend. We were a little surprised to find out in  overnight camp that we were lying seventh, and had made the chasing start of the top 20 teams. We had obviously picked a good course to pick up plenty of points.

This meant a 0742 start for Sunday, but with the clocks going back it wasn’t going to be a massive hardship.

In retrospect we made a strategy error on the Sunday, and should have gone West, onto the moors, instead of East of the start line and into the forest. We were lured by some controls with big points, and totally missed the fact that we could have picked up several smaller scores, worth more, in the same time. Anyway, we ran in, finished 54th on day 2. Combining our points gave us 22nd overall which, given 120 starters, and our less than competitive approach to the weekend is pretty pleasing.

For me, the event is all about the chance to go run somewhere that I wouldn’t  normally and have the challenge of having to have really good navigation. That I get to do it with my best mate makes it really special.

Thanks Jeremy, a cracking weekend, and proof that guts makes glory, not a diddy rucksack! Though to be fair we could cut back in a few areas…I might take one less buff next year!

Finishline photo Cheviots OMM 2014
Finishline photo Cheviots OMM 2014

Wye One Way 50 mile (Might Contain Nuts)

Finishers medal
Finishers medal

Time for a write up of an event. This one comes in a roundabout way. Mainly because I got to the start line with so many doubts and feeling more pressure than I had before. It’s an ultra right up, so you might want to grab some hydration (tea should work).

I was heading to the start line to support Sandra Williams in her first 50 mile run, and to help her raise money for the Welsh Air Ambulance – please consider donating here

Sandra and I have run long runs together over the last little while, and her company in long runs whilst training for MdS made some long weeks bearable.

The original aim was for the South Down Way 50 in April, but events meant that Sandra deferred to the Wye One Way Ultra, run by Might Contain Nuts. I can’t really remember when she asked whether I would run it with her, but I said yes, and booked my place.

The route is quite special, first it is linear, it starts in Llangurig and roughly follows the Afon Gwy (River Wye) to Glasbury. When I say follow, it sort of meanders up off over hills, meaning that the 50 miles roller coasters up and down 2200m.

Why the pressure? Well, I managed to roll my ankle the weekend before the run, and it was a little achey. Plus I felt that I hadn’t really managed to put as many back-to-back miles in as I would have liked. I also really wanted to make Sandra’s run as easy as possible. Running that distance is mainly mental. It is going to hurt. It is about managing everything to get to the finish. The last thing I wanted to be was another thing that Sandra needed to manage to get her to the finish. 

Splits record stuck to my water bottle
Splits record stuck to my water bottle

I found it quite challenging planning in my head. Trying to visualise how I would go at different points. I am fairly detailed in how I plan. And the unknown, being there to be invisible became more and more of an issue as my ankle got more sore. I’m so used to running my own race, this was a new challenge for me.

Sandra messaged me to say “Start together, finish together” which worried me. The doubts I had meant that I needed to know, if I was truly broken, she would carry on. We were fortunate that Rhys, Sandra’s husband was going to be following us down the route and be at checkpoints (CP) so I knew I could bale if I really had to. Though I really didn’t want to, I doubted my ankle would take the battering.

Food haul
Food haul

I got all the food together that I needed. This time I was going to take most of my calories from TORQ gel and TORQ energy, I had two Pepperami Wideboys, some NutriGrain breakfast bars and some ’emergency’ Jelly Babies. Because we had Rhys following us, I also had some flat Coca-Cola, just to lift me at CP’s. Along with the madatory kit my pack was 3.5kg, plus a litre of water, made 4.5kg.

I packaged it all down, and was comfortable with the set up. One chest bottle, and one bottle in reserve, just in case it was hot on the longest leg, that also had some large climbs on it.

I also decided that I would use tried and tested shoes; the Inov8 Roclite 315, just for a mixture of grip and cushioning. My last job was to get the CP’s onto a Movescount Route, this would mean I would have some leg by leg navigation. Because the route is marked it should be a case of just following the markers, but it’s nice to have a ready reference. 

We arrived in Llangurig at 7:15, registered in the village car park. Made use of the portaloo’s and controlled start nerves. The bus load of other runners, who were being shuttled up from Glasbury, arrived, The quiet car park became a lively chatter of 40 ish runners. A couple of dogs were running. We all wandered onto the little lane for the race briefing. Because it had been dry the cattle were still on some of the fields we were running through. As always leave gates shut. And other than that it was a case of “have a good one”. 

The start in Llangurig
The start in Llangurig

We all agreed the start could be brought forward a minute, and then a hoot of a horn and we all started shuffling forward. It was immediately nice to be running. The nerves gone, the focus on the job all that was important.

Sandra and I were running together, just finding our way through the runners to our easy pace. With a race this long, the start is never rushed, warming up as you go.

The route slowly turned uphill, then off tarmac and onto farmland. Not fighting the hills was key; just enjoy the views. I was aware of Sandra breathing hard, and we both slowed to a walk together. Up a big grassy hill, lovely views to the west towards Pumlumon. The group of runners already spread out, and finding their own pace. Plenty of gates, and that was a theme that carried on.

Of course, running down the Wye, if you climb, you descend. That first descent was probably the steepest of the course. It would be lovely on a shorter run, but on this distance taking it steady was essential. We come out on to a little road, and the pace picks up naturally as we are on easy terrain. Quickly, it seemed, we arrive at CP1. We’re quickly through, no need for anything after 5 miles. We join a runner, Nick Lindley, who is having a big year of Ultra’s and we chat about all sorts of stuff. He’s off to do a marathon assault course next weekend. Sandra and I are both impressed!

Coming to the Afon Elan with Nick
Coming to the Afon Elan with Nick

We climb steeply over Cefn Bach, with Nick pulling ahead before a lovely descent. Sandra and I catch Nick at the Afon Elan crossing. Because of the low water, it really is only a splash, but getting wet feet in the first 10 miles isn’t ideal. We join tarmac and as three runners round a very low Craig Goch Reservoir. Just before crossing the dam, Rhys is roadside. Sandra ditches a bit of her kit that she is finding too heavy. CP2 is on the other side of the dam. The marshalls, in their camper, had a lovely smell of sausages wafting out, I joked with them about having no brown sauce. Great to get some friendly banter whilst filling up on water. There are toilets here and we avail ourself. We chat with a runner who is on the way on, who has run the event before. he wans us there aren’t toilets for a long time yet.

CP2 to CP3, is on the face of it simple, alongside Penygarreg Resevoir, then down Garreg Ddu Resevoir to the dam and CP3. At the end of the Penygarreg Resevoir, we catch the runner in front who was trying to work out which fork to take on an unmarked junction. Quickly checking my watch, I can see it’s right and we run passed. The next bit of reservoir is stunning – inky water, slate blue rock and fresh green grass that has grown on the low level fringes of the foreshore. We pass a big group of walkers who shout “runner” to alert the others. I explain jokily that we’re shufflers. It’s very friendly. We arrive at CP3, Sandra takes a layer off, we refill water, have a  chat to the marshals about how bad Diet Coke is. Rhys points out we’re moving quite quickly. We both agree we should back off a bit; we’re going to need to.

We’re both avoiding the fact that this leg is long, and with a big climb. The other runner sets off in front of us and we grind up past the Church. We’re chatting about future events – Snowdon Marathon for Sandra. We’re steadily contouring round above the western end of the Caban Goch dam. We talk work on the descent back to tarmac. Again it would be a lovely quick descent on a different day.

We turn from travelling SW to just North of East as we climb back along the other side of Caban Goch. As we climb, we concertina closer and further away from the runner in front, depending on whether we are climbing or descending. On the long pull up Gro hill we pass the walkers again. Whilst they’re still bantering, we’re a little more subdued this time. A couple of mountain bikers zip down, it really is great riding in the Elan valley.

We’re descending here when Sandra pulls up with a really sharp pain in her knee. Obviously in a lot of pain, we talk through that it has happened before, and that it’ll pass. This is probably my most negative point of the run. My ankle is sore, and if Sandra needs to finish the desire to stop is massive. Sandra runs it out, and we climb again to Carn Gafallt. Sandra’s knee tweaks again on the descent into Llanwthrwl. But it quickly subsides and we descend to the CP. The runner in front is sat on a chair by the village hall. I take some pain killers that Sandra has brought. I can’t quite feel happy on my ankle. A good shot of Coca Cola too. Sandra has some coffee and we’re off ahead of the runner still sat. The Marathon distance run has started at this CP, and so there is more evidence of runners, suddenly. Grass shows the passage of people. This is reassuring for route finding.

The next leg is all alongside the Wye, and is beautiful running. I hadn’t quite plotted the CP in the right place, so I need to “skip” this on the navigation of my watch. Not having done it before, I stop the watch trying to get into a menu. Doh!! I start my watch again. So here is the first section the watch recorded.

We pass a mountain biker, who I’m briefly jealous of. I’d like to come back and ride this section. Having paddled it, and now run it, it seems like a good target to have.

We pass a very impressive house that I’ve never seen before, I think this is Doldowlod. It’s hard to imagine anyone investing that kind of money in such a development these days. Very impressive.

CP 5 itself is a bit of a blur, it’s on the side of a quick back road. I chat to a marshal who ran at Trail Marathon Wales, and was very pleased to hear that Run. Coed y Brenin has now got such an extensive range of demo trail shoes. I treat myself to a Pepperami and a slug of Cola here. There is a very uncomfortable looking runner, who is cramping badly. I offer him some Pepperami as he’s lacking salt and electrolytes and isn’t carrying any/ It’s 6 miles to CP6 and he is being encouraged to consider his choices carefully. 

As we run out through woodland, I’m burping Pepperami and Cola, stay classy Ash! Sandra, understandably, wants to stay clear of the smell if she can. She’s feeling a little peaky! We have a quick navigation moment, as we cross into a field we can’t quite see where the path goes, we add a few hundred metres on, going to an opposite corner before we spot a yellow sign and regain the track. This leg runs right alongside the river, some fantastic swimming spots and at low water the lovely rock shelves are visible. We pass a really impressive chalet style building, Dolyrerw Farm. Sandra and I are both smitten! We pass under the railway, and then pass Builth Rocks, there used to be a very popular canoe slalom held here, but not at these levels.

We can see the Royal Welsh Showground on the other bank, Builth Wells is close. We run alongside the Rugby pitch, Builth are playing Gwemyfyd and are winning 27-0 (they want on to win 49-0, well done!) and there is a great atmosphere. Sandra is trying to work out what to eat, if anything, as she’s feeling a bit queasy. I make use of the toilets, scarf a Nutrigain, some JellyBabies and some Coke. This next leg is the last big climb, and so we’re preparing ourselves mentally.

Out of Builth and we turn uphill, on tarmac, there are lots of midges here and it is a little unpleasant. We climb about 70m and then on the crest of the hill, Sandra spots a little hedge lined lane on the other side of the valley. We both know we’re heading up there. We descend to the small Duhonw river before climbing up what feels like an old drover road. It’s pretty, but hard. We climb to about 400m on the side of Banc y Celyn before contouring. We lose a little height and join a track, before a small climb to CP7. 

It’s under a half marathon left, in fact the 10 mile trail race starts here. We travel along “Twmpath” which is a beautiful mound of grass, quite high above the Wye. This is easy running, and I was lulled into  false sense of security. Just above Erwood we drop in to a little wood. There are lots of brambles, and a nadgery little trail it’s only 500m or so long, but this is the most uncomfortable, technical section of trail yet. We finally clear this, and have about a kilometre to CP8. Sandra is hobbling, and has a very sore heel. We stop, and she gets a plaster on the blister. “Should have listened to Rhys”, she says, as he’d offered that advice earlier. Nothing ever gets better on an ultra!

We run into Trericket Mill, this CP is my final water fill up. I gobble a couple more Jelly Babies. We cross the A470 and follow the Wye Valley Walk alongside the river. There is a path, a hard path, I whoop in relief! The terrain is a little easier. Rhys toots his horn as he leaves us to get to CP 9.

We tick down this leg pretty quickly. The running is pretty simple, the route finding easy, and the light is still pretty good. Llangoed Hall is impressive and well lit, before we pass the Llyswen Water Treatment works and get back on tarmac. I know we’ll both finish now.

CP9 is quick, Rhys has noticed we picked up the pace, and confirms that if we do the same again we’ll finish under 12 hours. The light is fading so we put head torches on and run through woodland and farmland before picking up a firm trail leading towards Glasbury. At the road, we turn left and run to Woodlands OEC, where the finish waits for us.

Coming to the Finish of the Wye Valley One Way
Coming to the Finish of the Wye Valley One Way

Sandra spots that we’re just inside 12 hours, and whilst we’d been vaguely aware that Sandra was running well, here at the finish line it’s confirmed; she is the first lady home What an achievement – I’m so chuffed to be along for the run with her. The emotions of finishing smash home for Sandra, and a little lip wobble are sorted by a hug from a massively proud Rhys. If you’ve read this far, you’ll recognise the amazing achievement – donate here!

I’ve learned a lot, again, about myself. I’m pleased to have made it down the Wye. It’s very satisfying personally, but I’ve got far more pleasure considering Sandra’s achievement. Da iawn San!

 

Around Cadair Idris

Craig Las from Ffordd Ddu
Craig Las from Ffordd Ddu

Meirionnydd offers up some really terrific running routes. An eye on the map, or local knowledge will find them for you.

This run was about putting some time into my legs, and checking out how I was doing with hydration and nutrition on longer runs. I try and learn from every run I do. This run hurt, but I recovered quickly, so things aren’t as bleak as I thought for the Wye one way in a fortnight.

With all of the hard work done, travelling around Cadair, and the  majority of the 1000m of ascent done, this view leading back to Dolgellau really inspires me.

What are the best trail running shoes?

Here’s a question that gets asked a lot. And there are some things that make the best trail running shoe.

In my opinion the best trail shoes should:

  1. Fit you
  2. Instil confidence in your feet
  3. Be well made

Now, because of the difference in trails there is always a compromise. Here in the UK we have a variety of different styles of trails, and these throw heaps of challenges to shoes. Consider the difference between hard pack, dusty, dry forest fire road trails  and sloppy, boggy, marshy trails after rain and you’ll start to see the fact that no one “foot tyre” can fit. Tractors have big aggressive tyre patterns compared to a formula one car. I dislike “waterpoof” shoes, instead I prefer quick drying shoes, which allow water to drain from the inside out. Think if you will about filling your wellies up with water and then walking 10 km. Your feet will be soft and broken. This is what having a liner in creates in UK conditions. There are places where it’s useful, but in my opinion, not on UK trails.

In the same way, everyone feet are slightly different. High arches, wide forefoot, bony heels the list of “I’ve got’s…” is impressive. Get the right length shoe, and then learn how to lace you shoe up properly.

Trail shoes aren’t a one trick pony – I have three shoes that I run trails in. I can run any trail in these three, but my speed will be massively affected by what I have on my feet.

I’m looking at three shoes (L-R)  Inov-8 Roclite 315, Salomon Crossmax Neutral and Asics GT2000. At the time of being pictured I have racked up, collectively, 2700 km on these shoes, split as follows:

  • Inov8 Roclite 315 – 700 km
  • Salomon Crossmax neutral – 620 km
  • Asics GT2000 – 1,380 km

I primarily use the Roclites when I’m heading off the beaten track, mountain, forest and although not this pair, these were the shoe I chose for Marathon des Sables, Trail Marathon Wales, Brecon Ultra and some other off road races. The sole is, in my experience pretty spot on for UK trail running. The rubber is soft enough to give good traction on rock, wet and dry as well on wet tree roots. As the pictures show, despite this soft rubber, the wear has lasted well, bear in mind my running weight is a minimum of 85 kg, sometimes 90+ depending on how much water and kit I am carrying. The upper too deserves credit, these have smashed new paths through heather, run down scree, kicked big rocks in slate fields as well as pottering through Skye’s vicious Gabro rock. There is a bit of material damage inside the heel cup of one shoe, but that is my fault not the shoe, and after 700 km I think that this is a massive success for a shoe that often gets sodden!

The Salomon Crossmax I use when I know I have a large amount of tarmac and hard pack and when I know there are not steep grassy slopes involved. I love these shoes for running alongside canals and rivers. I haven’t raced in these, primarily because I’ve not entered a race where the terrain has suited, but I would use them for any of the Thames path races, or at this stage, something like Ring o’ Fire. These also get a fair hammering through the undergrowth. Though I don’t think this is the reason for the failing upper over the bridge of the toe. The speed lacing system is very effective, and I do like this very much where I don’t need to tension the shoe in a non standard way (swelling feet, steep terrain). The rubber compound is very solid, sometimes at the detriment to grip in the wet. I don’t trust the soles much on wet rock, or tree roots, but this is perhaps because I’m acutely aware of this where I run the majority of my routes.  

Whilst the Asics get used mainly on tarmac, I’ve added them here for a specific reason. I use these where I’m running fire trail, or prepared trails where the surface isn’t broken. I also think the Asics demonstrate how it is possible to make a very long lasting shoe. Whilst these upper do not get abused anywhere near as much as the Inov8’s these do get wet and mucky fairly regularly and I’m really impressed how well they look after 1400 km’s. The sole rarely gets anything more complicated than some big pebbles, and some pretty steep tarmac that I have locally but the sheer volume of footstrike these have experienced (nearly half a million) with my 85kg on top of them are a massive testament to the build quality of these shoes. The grip side of things is never an issue for me, but that is because they are never pushed in a position where I ever really test it. The major win for these is the sheer contact area that they have available without knobbles!

Which are the best trail shoes? Well they’re the ones that work for you. I consider that I’ve tested these three shoes reasonably extensively in UK conditions. Is one of these the best pair of trail running shoes? For me yes, I could pick one pair for all my trail running. I’d prefer to have all three pairs, and I will probably keep on experimenting over the coming shoes. Technology is still evolving in trail running and that will bring about better shoes. Which should you choose? You should choose a shoe that suits the majority of the conditions that you run in.

If I had to choose one pair of shoes from these three, it would be the Inov8’s. In fact I have a few pairs and would happily run any route that went off road in them.

Trust the shoes on your feet, and go run exploring. The best kit in the world does no good sitting on the shelf!

Run training with Strava premium, is it worth it?

I choose to be a Strava premium user. I like statistics, my running buddies often ask me whether paying for Strava is worth the money. I think it depends on what you want, but if results is your thing I would say, yes, it’s a handy tool to have in your toolkit.

So here was my test. In May, having come back from Marathon des Sables, and *ahem* eaten my way through my recover. I needed a clear goal to get me back and training hard. So I looked out the window. And this is what I saw, obviously without the writing!

My motivation
My motivation

Next job was to create a segment, so 4th May I went for a run, starting and finishing where I wanted my goal to be. Here’s the link to that segment, so now I have the statistics it’s 6.6km with an 825m ascent. I also now know that it takes me about an hour and eleven minutes to get to the top. It is also a climb category “HC” which is tough!

Now, this is where premium kicks in, you can then set a goal for the segment, which is time limited, and this appears on your dashboard every time you view Strava. It counts you down to the deadline. I picked 4 months as that felt sensible.

Then, I almost forgot about this goal for 8 weeks, I focussed on training for Trail Marathon Wales, well when I say focussed, I focussed on the race, but not the preparation and got the result I deserved…slow.

But then, I started using Strava to analyse where I needed to gain. It was in my speed. My stamina was good, but I needed pace work. So, I set a one km segment and tried to get that speed down. I entered a short trail race and set myself the challenge of a Cooper Test (all out effort for 12 minutes). One thing, each month where speed was being measured. Then I looked at my daily training against my heart rate. I then made sure I was spending one session in my tempo category, and one in my threshold, as well as keeping up the long steady runs.

I used the “goal segment” for a couple of my long runs, just to check the route and see where my pace was naturally going. By mid August I had taken just over five minutes off my time. The segment analysis now lets you see where gains can be made, and that is mentally noted to go hard at.

Strava training log
Strava training log

The training log gives a visual record of how you’re getting on against your weekly goal (another premium add)

This all means that staying injury free is easier.

All the while I’m learning more about how and when I run at my best.

I had a slight hiccup, my aim was to have a go at the goal three weeks before the deadline, however darling daughter giving me a cold put paid to that!!

So, finally I had a shot at the goal today. In 4 months, I knocked nearly 14 minutes off my time (that’s nearly 20% lost). Yes it hurt, but looking at where I made pace, I was moving consistently faster across the terrain. I’m very, very pleased!

Could I have done it without Strava, probably. But as someone who trains on my own, a lot, it’s great getting kudos and feedback from the followers. It really keeps me motivated not to duck a training session.

Strava premium, is it worth it? I think if you want to make gains in your running. Strava should be there in your training toolbox!